February 22, 2014

Junot Diaz and "Aurora"

Junot Diaz is an incredible author. I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for the second time and was absolutely floored by its narrative complexity and emotional resonance. The story focuses primarily on Oscar Wao, an overweight ghetto nerd living in Paterson, New Jersey. Oscar is obsessed with Science Fiction, fantasy, and anything that provides an escape from the depressingly awful circumstances of his life. The novel deals with a number of themes, ranging from the construction of gender to how Diaspora can change someone’s life. I can’t recommend the novel enough. Anyone interested in sci-fi, adulthood, Latin-american literature, or book in general will greatly enjoy this book. It’s hard to imagine Diaz topping this novel anytime soon. It’s an incredible achievement that I hope will stand the test of time.

While I could talk for hours about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, this post will focus on Diaz’s short story “Aurora” in the collection Drown. Since I originally created this blog to review short fiction, I hope to continue this for as long as possible. After finishing the first four stories in Drown, I can safely say that the literary quality of Diaz’s short fiction is on par with TBWLOW. His stories exhibit the same kind of voice and style present in his longer work. The same narrator is present in both Drown and TBWLOW, making the two works feel like companions to each other. Most authors I’m familiar with switch narrators frequently, while Diaz is content to keep the same narrator. As a part-time writer of fiction, this makes sense to me as it maintains a common thread throughout multiple books. When you can keep something the same in multiple stories, this lessens the amount of work for the writer. The narrator’s name is Yunior and for lack of a better term, he’s a douche. He spends the majority of his time womanizing to build up his fragile ego. In his defense, Yunior does seem to mature later, but his early life is rife with abuse perpetrated by and against him. It’s critical to discuss Yunior because he is always present in both Drown and TBWLOW. With Yunior, Diaz has created a character who may not be likeable, but has arguably redeemed himself by telling us the stories in the first place.
“Aurora” comes at a point when Yunior seems to be in high-school or possibly older. Along with his friend/co-worker named Cut, Yunior has made a steady living dealing drugs in New Jersey. It’s an interesting point in Yunior’s life because he’s making bad decisions all over the place. There’s a tension between what Yunior is doing and how he knows it’s bad. Yunior can’t seem to stop himself from indulging in activities that are dangerous and rewarding in the short-term future. The reader is presented several times with Yunior’s thoughts upon waking in which he laments his choices the prior night. One consistent form of danger comes in the form of Aurora, the title character of the story who is difficult to fully understand as a person. Aurora appears to Yunior sporadically, always ready to do drugs and have sex in exchange for something. It’s easy to dismiss Aurora as a drug-addicted burnout, yet she’s a surprisingly complex character. She’s appealing enough that Yunior describes his relationship with her as love, despite how it sometimes looks like abuse. To me, the story presented a commentary on love as something hard to define. Is Yunior really in love with Aurora, or is he addicted to what she provides for him physically? Yunior seems convinced that it’s love but I find myself unwilling to accept Yunior as a credible source.
The story ends in a hardly surprising difficult place. Aurora has been released from Juvenile Hall and met up with Yunior in an abandoned apartment. It’s a fleeting moment of happiness for both characters and Yunior admits that everything seems fine. It’s tragic because any semblance of normalcy in this moment will disappear because for these characters because love is intertwined with hate and normal equates with danger.

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